Have you ever looked around at communities that are thriving with businesses that are growing, and wondered what’s the secret to their success? It won’t take you long to find a common theme to those success stories… it’s the people! People are at the center of economic development activity. So as a community, our future relies on our ability to retain and attract people.
Seems easy enough. Bring the people and the economic opportunities will follow. But let’s be honest, retaining and recruiting people is not as easy as it once was. Previously, communities were built up around businesses. In today’s remote and global economy, we must prioritize efforts to become a community that attracts people, which in turn can support businesses, as well as attract new industry.
So, what does it take to become a destination community, one that people can and want to live in? Priorities vary from person to person, but one constant that will always remain at the top of the list is the ability to find a place to live. Great schools, healthcare, businesses, retail, etc. are vital, but without the ability to find suitable housing, we will consistently fall short of our potential.
The City’s recent housing study shed light on the housing deficit, which spreads across all housing sectors. The National Association of Realtors recently listed Jefferson City as the 12th tightest housing market regardless of community size, a recognition that we need to fix. We lack housing options in all cost categories, causing a housing compression that leads to many households purchasing or renting homes that are priced below what they “could” otherwise afford. This creates downward pressure in the housing market.
The good news is that the Jefferson City area has great schools, healthcare, and businesses, that families look for when picking a community. In fact, our businesses are bursting at the seams with growth opportunities. Families from this area love the small town feel and security, with access to amenities and numerous career opportunities. But, with all this momentum, what’s caused our population to stay flat over the past 20 years? A major contributing factor is the shortage of housing — rentals to owner-occupied and everything in between.
Talking with employers around the community, both big and small, the needs and opportunities for growth are here and now. Delays or decisions not to move forward largely stem from concerns about the ability to attract the workforce necessary for expanded operations. Again, seems easy enough, let people know we have numerous job opportunities, and they will locate here. Well, without housing options available, we fall short of meeting our community’s potential.
Our workforce largely consists of people who do not live in Jefferson City. A recent study* cited that only 23% of the jobs in Jefferson City are filled by residents of Jefferson City. That clearly demonstrates our reliance on a commuting workforce. Historically we have relied on people commuting in for work from surrounding communities, but with the increase in remote work opportunities, it has become increasingly more difficult to attract commuters. Plus, we lose out on the additional economic impacts of those jobs when commuters take their wages/incomes and spend them outside the community.
Where do we go from here? The first step in problem-solving is admitting you have a problem. Check. Now we must come together as a community to address this issue. We have an opportunity to acknowledge our shortcomings, develop strategies to overcome our obstacles, and utilize the talent of this community to move forward. If you have the ability, please join me in supporting our builders, realtors, developers, elected officials, resource partners, and many others that are working towards housing solutions, because our economy depends on it!
*To access the Housing Study, go to Jeffersoncitymo.gov > Government > Departments > Planning & Protective Services > Plans & Publications > Housing Study